Wendy Waggener's 'Unwinding' Exercise to Help Musicians' Muscles Recover After a Concert

March 11, 2018, 1:35 AM · Oh my aching back -- and neck and shoulders and arms...

On Sunday I was feeling that typical violinist pain during the intermission of a performance of Handel's Messiah. We had just three on a part, and those tunes kept coming at us. My violin seemed lifted for an eternity, with arms suspended, pressure on, shoulders tensed. After several hours of this, my muscles complained loudly.

That's when I remembered that my colleague Wendy Waggener, sitting just a few chairs away, is not only a violinist, but also a specialist in the Alexander Technique.

"Is there anything we can do after a gig like this," I asked, "other than popping ibuprofen or something stronger?"

"Definitely!" she said. She described an exercise to "unwind" muscles after they have been strained or over-used. "It's a little unusual, but it really helps. I will show you."

So after the gig, Wendy met up with me back stage and described a method for "unwinding," based on her Alexander-related studies and experience working with musicians.

The premise is that your body will "undo" what you have done to your muscles, if you simply allow yourself to move in a completely unfettered way for about 20 to 30 minutes. The trick is that you can't do this consciously. Of course, you can set it in motion, but then you have to turn off your conscious mind and feel your way through it, tapping into your autonomic nervous system.

That might sound complicated, but it's not. You simply put some part of your body in motion, then continue to move in a way that feels good. You just need a place where you can shut the door, move around and be completely uninhibited.

I went home and gave it a try. I found it to be a very interesting practice! I started by moving my arms in ways that felt good, and I found that after this gig, there were limits on what felt good, for sure. In the beginning, I went toward those movements that did not cause any tweaks of pain or discomfort. The more I let go, the easier this became, and the more I could find movements that actually felt good: stretchy and healthy for my muscles.

Also, the less inhibited my movement became, the stranger it became! I felt like a cross between a cat stretching in a sunbeam and a modern dancer improvising. Wendy suggested lying down, so I tried that for a while. I found myself moving into several positions that I like to sleep in, then continuing the movement from there.

It did feel very good, good enough that I'd like to try it again. I'm also noticing that the giant knot that typically takes over the right side of my back has not actually formed, at least not yet!

Considering that this practice costs no money, requires no training and does not involve pills, it's certainly worth a shot. It just might help - thank you Wendy!

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Replies

March 11, 2018 at 10:39 PM · One of the most wonderful Alexander Technique exercises I've ever come across is called the Cycle. It takes 2 minutes, and it's the best warmup ever! I'm a musician and teach it to my students all the time. You can learn it for free on YouTube!

March 12, 2018 at 06:34 AM · Thanks Laurie, this is great stuff! I have similar right shoulder sore after a couple of hours rehearsal, especially when the work is challenging. I think Wendy'unwinding method makes sense. Our body is smart. After all, it has been evolved a lot longer than our frontal lobe has. If we let it move without judgement, it should be helpful.

March 13, 2018 at 07:26 AM · This is absolutely fantastic. From a seasoned pro and by no means a yoga/ Chi Gong/ Alexander/ Feldenkrais neophite, thank you Wendy!

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